FO­CUS BIKES

FO­CUS IS CEL­E­BRAT­ING ITS 25TH AN­NIVER­SARY SO WE HEADED OUT TO GER­MANY’S BLACK FOR­EST TO MEET ITS FOUNDER MIKE KLUGE AND RIDE THE COM­PANY’S MOST RAD­I­CAL BIKE YET, THE PARALANE≤

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - WORDS WARREN ROS­SITER PHOTOGRAPHY RUS­SELL BUR­TON

As Fo­cus Bikes turns 25, we head to its Ger­man HQ to chat to founder Mike Kluge and ride the com­pany’s most rad­i­cal bike yet, the Par­alane2.

Dur­ing his racing ca­reer in the 1980s and ’90s, founder of Fo­cus Bikes, Mike ‘the Bike’ Kluge was a step apart from the typ­i­cal rider. He was as ob­ses­sive about pre­par­ing his body as other rid­ers, but he was just as ob­ses­sive about the prepa­ra­tion of his bike. He bad­gered spon­sors with sug­ges­tions to im­prove his bikes and looked to find an ad­van­tage by us­ing new or un­con­ven­tional equip­ment. And his ap­proach worked, win­ning the am­a­teur world cy­clo-cross cham­pi­onships twice and again as a fully-fledged pro, along with nu­mer­ous other vic­to­ries on the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional road, moun­tain bike and track cy­cling cir­cuits

Dur­ing his pro ca­reer Mike de­cided to start build­ing his own bikes, and make the im­prove­ments he was look­ing for in the equip­ment he was us­ing. So, he and two friends set up shop in a mod­est garage in Ger­many’s fa­mous Black For­est and Fo­cus Bikes was born.

Mike still owns the garage, which is stacked floor to ceil­ing with some of the most in­ter­est­ing parts, frames and racing para­pher­na­lia from his racing and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­reer. We spot­ted an ul­tra-rare Corima Fox mono­coque TT frame­set, which was banned by the UCI, his Alan cy­clo-cross bike with a Magura hy­draulic rim brake on the front and the orig­i­nal jersey he won the world cy­clo-cross champs in, not framed and pris­tine, just draped over a frame and still bear­ing decades old dirt.

“I al­ways loved to race,” ex­plains Mike. “The com­pe­ti­tion was tough, so along with train­ing hard and be­ing fo­cused, I wanted to make sure my bike was as good as I could make it. In cy­clo-cross I was the only one us­ing Magura’s hy­draulic rim brake – I had a cus­tom-made lever for drop bars – and with this on the front I could out­brake my ri­vals. The Magura brake worked in the wet, whereas can­tilevers didn’t. “Later on, I took a but­ter­fly-shaped shifter that Sachs used to make for touring bikes and mounted it on my race bike’s bar. With this I could shift with­out tak­ing my hands off the bar, in the days be­fore STI or Er­golevers, whereas my ri­vals still had to reach down to levers on their down-tubes,” he con­tin­ues.

Try some­thing new

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved in new tech­nol­ogy,” says Mike. “That’s how I ended up moun­tain bike racing. I’d been very suc­cess­ful in cy­clo-cross and had taken some time out to go surf­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. My spon­sors called me back to Berlin to con­sider moun­tain bike racing. I liked the idea; I was tech­ni­cally good at han­dling a bike and to me a moun­tain bike just seemed like a cy­clo-cross one with big­ger tyres. I gave it a try and then won the World Cup in 1990. By 1992 I was even do­ing down­hill racing.

“But racing is hard: you train hard, you have to eat healthily and live your life cleanly. You’re young and want to party with friends, but you have to make sac­ri­fices. The last thing I wanted was for the bike to let me down, so I be­came in­ter­ested in mak­ing each one I rode as good as pos­si­ble.”

It was dur­ing his pro ca­reer that Mike de­cided to start build­ing his own bikes

That’s ul­ti­mately what led Mike and his friends to set up Fo­cus in 1993. Mike sold the com­pany to giant Derby Cy­cle group later that year, which has since come un­der the own­er­ship of Pon Hold­ings along with the likes of Cervélo, Santa Cruz, Kalkhoff and others.

Af­ter a few years away from Fo­cus, Mike re­turned to work for the brand. “I feel so con­nected to Fo­cus and I love the way it has stuck to my orig­i­nal ap­proach: to in­no­vate, to ac­cept new ideas and make bikes af­ford­able for rac­ers and rid­ers alike. It’s my baby still so some­times I can be too crit­i­cal, but we all care, which is good for us all.”

Change is a good thing

While Fo­cus isn’t the most vo­cal of brands when it comes to its heritage and in­no­va­tions, look back and you’ll find plenty of both. The orig­i­nal Izalco frame set new bench­marks for weight and stiff­ness, and the Izalco Max from 2014 was one of the first frames to use dif­fer­ent tube di­men­sions and shapes be­tween sizes to en­sure a small frame would have ex­actly the same ride char­ac­ter­is­tics as a large one. That year’s 760g-framed Izalco Max also had a 295g fork that man­aged to be par­tic­u­larly strong for its weight thanks to its con­struc­tion from con­tin­u­ous car­bon fi­bre strands. Even now, four years later, pre­cious few brands can touch that.

Fo­cus was among the first brands to in­tro­duce disc brakes to its road bikes. Not only that but its Mares CX bike set the standard for disc-equipped cy­clo-cross bikes, a standard that big­ger ri­vals are only just start­ing to meet. Then there is the RAT [Rapid Axle Tech­nol­ogy] thru-axle. Fo­cus un­der­stood that for road racing the standard threaded thru-axle would take too long to re­move. Its so­lu­tion was the quar­ter-turn quick-re­lease, which is still the fastest way to get disc-brake wheels in and out of road bikes. Mike expands on the sub­ject of disc brakes. “For me, it’s about safety. Pro racing is slow to adapt, but cy­clo-cross was much quicker to change. To be able to slow down and stop on point makes for a racing ad­van­tage, but also a safety one. Of course, you don’t need that power and con­trol all the time but it’s good to have it when you need it, like in the rain on de­scents. “In­no­va­tion leads to a lot of peo­ple com­plain­ing. I’m from a time when rid­ers com­plained about hel­mets, but I’m sure hel­mets have saved my life or just my head from se­ri­ous dam­age [Mike has frac­tured a few ver­te­brae in his time]. Rid­ers who com­plain about discs now are the same. I’ve had times where disc brakes have saved me from se­ri­ous in­jury or worse. I think a lot of these peo­ple will sound stupid in some years time.”

Fo­cus was among the first brands to in­tro­duce disc brakes to its road bikes

Ex­clu­sive ride

All of which brings us to the rea­son we’re here – to get an ex­clu­sive look at the new Fo­cus Par­alane2. The Paralane is one of the orig­i­nal

all-road ma­chines in the vein of the GT Grade or Cervélo C se­ries – a bike that blurred the bound­aries be­tween en­durance road and gravel, a bike you could take pretty much any­where. This new one, how­ever, adds power as­sis­tance into the mix. You can al­most hear the purists gnash­ing their teeth at the prospect.

For me, e-bikes are one thing – I use one to com­mute on my 60-mile round trip to the of­fice when I’m not test­ing bikes. But a ‘per­for­mance’ e-bike? Well, that’s some­thing else. I asked Mike about the whole power-as­sisted race bike thing.

“I did think a lit­tle like you orig­i­nally. But on the days when I’m rid­ing alone and maybe not so mo­ti­vated I can take my e-moun­tain bike. Not far from my house there’s a moun­tain that’s 1200m high with trails all over it. Even as a pro some of those trails were too steep to ride, but with the e-bike I can ex­plore the moun­tain at my leisure and found so many new trails as a re­sult. It makes me happy. On the Par­alane2 I can ride for­est tracks and fire roads in the same way, the sort of roads that I may not have been able to ac­cess on my orig­i­nal Paralane.”

Prod­uct man­ager Mark Grunert sees the Par­alane2 as a “light, ag­ile bike that gives you that ex­tra push when you need it. We wanted to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion to nor­mal e-bikes, we wanted it to help rid­ers achieve their un­achiev­able.”

The new bike be­gan life as ‘Project Y’ and Fo­cus saw it as a re­ac­tion to the ob­ses­sion with ever-in­creas­ing power out­puts in the e-bike mar­ket. Mike ex­plains: “E-bikes were mov­ing more to­wards mo­tor­bikes and away from cy­cling. Project Y was our choice to take a dif­fer­ent fork in the road and head in a new di­rec­tion.”

Fo­cus thinks the peo­ple most likely to buy the Par­alane2 are ei­ther rid­ers that are al­ready rid­ing per­for­mance e-moun­tain bikes or those look­ing to do se­ri­ous ex­er­cise with­out con­stantly be­ing on the rivet. All that’s on top of the usual e-bike sell­ing points of be­ing some­thing that en­ables rid­ers of all abil­i­ties and ages to ride to­gether.

The pri­or­ity for Fo­cus was to make the Par­alane2 light. It teamed up with fel­low Ger­man com­pany Fazua, mak­ing e-bike sys­tems born out of a univer­sity project. The name is Bavar­ian slang for ‘go on’. The Fazua sys­tem pro­vides a hearty 60Nm/400W of as­sis­tance but is min­i­mal com­pared to es­tab­lished e-bike power units from the likes of Bosch and Shi­mano. The real sur­prise is that the Fazua unit (mo­tor, bat­tery and bot­tom bracket) weighs just 3.5kg, mean­ing our medium-sized (54/56cm) test bike tipped the

scales just shy of 13kg. Yes, that’s heavy for a road bike but light for an e-bike.

There’s an­other trick up the Par­alane2’s sleeve – you can re­move the bat­tery and mo­tor from the down-tube so you’re left with a 10kg road bike. If you’re happy to leave the sys­tem in place and ride with­out power as­sis­tance, there’s no drag from the power unit, un­like most other e-bikes.

Build­ing in the boost

In­te­grat­ing the Fazua sys­tem was a dif­fi­cult process, as Fo­cus wanted the Par­alane2 to be a bike that could be rid­den with or with­out it in place. That meant it had to be strong enough to han­dle the weight and stresses of a power unit but main­tain the same ride qual­i­ties and ge­om­e­try as a nor­mal, non-pow­ered Paralane. Com­pos­ites en­gi­neer Paul Sad­owski explained how they set out to achieve that.

“We used many more high-strength fi­bres in the down-tube, bot­tom bracket and head-tube. We needed the down-tube to be able to re­sist buck­ling and tor­sional twist­ing as it’s not a closed tube any­more. We solved it with ma­te­ri­als and by us­ing spe­cific ori­en­ta­tions of the fi­bres. We did eight weeks of test­ing on fi­bre ori­en­ta­tion on the front tri­an­gle alone in our pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Asia, and that was on the back of the en­gi­neer­ing re­search we un­der­took in Ger­many. The most im­por­tant thing is that it had to feel like a Paralane, a bike we’re al­ready proud of.”

The most im­por­tant thing is that it had to feel like a Paralane, a bike we’re al­ready proud of

The Par­alane2 frame uses over 500 plies of car­bon, over 30 per cent more than the standard Paralane. It weighs 1450g, which, when you con­sider all the ex­tra ma­te­rial for the mo­tor and bat­tery mounts, and increases in strength, is a pretty im­pres­sive achieve­ment.

The Fazua mo­tor uses a bot­tom bracket that’s 3mm wider on each side than a tra­di­tional road unit. But af­ter build­ing pro­to­type frames around it and putting them through thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of test­ing, Fo­cus found that the ex­tra width on the drive­side com­pro­mised shift­ing. Rather than come up with a quick fix, de­sign­ers joined forces with DT Swiss to bring Boost tech­nol­ogy – a wider hub spac­ing found on moun­tain bikes run­ning plus-sized tyres – to the road. This new standard increases the spac­ing be­tween the dropouts to 148mm at the rear and by 10mm at the front to 110mm for bal­ance, and uses RAT thru-axles. Fo­cus claims the Boost and RAT com­bi­na­tion adds stiff­ness and dura­bil­ity to the wheels and pro­vides an op­ti­mal chain­line to en­sure smooth shift­ing and longevity. The Par­alane2 of­fi­cially has clear­ance for 35mm tyres, which may be big for the road mar­ket but isn’t ex­actly gen­er­ous when you con­sider the clear­ances typ­i­cally found on gravel bikes. Ac­cord­ing to Mark Grunert you can get 38mm tyres in the frame, but it de­pends on what rims you use. “We state 35mm to be safe, but you can go big­ger,” he says.

Mind-al­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

I have to ad­mit, I was scep­ti­cal of the Par­alane2. I could see the point of it but it didn’t strike me as some­thing I, or many of the peo­ple I know,

would want. I like e-bikes for trans­port, as a util­ity tool; but I’m not so sure about us­ing one for sport. Spend­ing time with Mike, his open­mind­ed­ness and will­ing­ness to try new things starts to rub off. So be­fore long he and I head out on a pair of Par­alane2s – me on the Ul­te­gra Di2e­quipped 9.8 and Mike on the more mod­est, 105-equipped 9.6.

Our ini­tial spin’s on the flat, so there was no need for any power as­sis­tance. And I’m happy to re­port that it felt… well, just like a nor­mal bike. The ex­tra weight of the mo­tor and bat­tery are low down so aren’t an is­sue when you’re rolling along. As we turned onto a sin­gle­track road that steep­ened quickly and se­verely, I en­gaged the power as­sis­tance.

The bar-mounted con­trol unit of­fers four power lev­els – white/off, green/ low, blue/medium and pink/full. I pressed the but­ton to switch from white to green and slowly be­came aware of a small push feed­ing in to help me main­tain my ca­dence and keep climb­ing.

The next sec­tion had a loose, gravel sur­face and was even steeper, so I upped the ante to blue. With the medium power set­ting you get a lit­tle bit more speed but it’s in­tro­duced un­like any other sys­tem I’ve tried. It felt weirdly nat­u­ral and was also ex­tremely quiet, with none of the elec­tric mo­tor whine I’ve come to ex­pect. The power comes in grad­u­ally, and it felt like it was work­ing with me rather than for me. Other e-bike sys­tems I’ve used seem to take over, as if they’re pow­er­ing the bike and you’re the one as­sist­ing. With the Par­alane2 and its clever Fazua mo­tor, it al­ways felt as if I was the one in charge.

It felt weirdly nat­u­ral and was ex­tremely quiet, with none of the elec­tric mo­tor whine I’ve come to ex­pect

On the loose gravel the bike felt planted, largely be­cause the ex­tra go it gives you means you’re free to con­cen­trate on shift­ing your body­weight to main­tain trac­tion, rather than just try­ing to do that while wor­ry­ing about pedalling. It was as if the bike re­ally was help­ing me to keep go­ing where I wanted to go. Then we hit a proper climb – a moun­tain as­cent with vary­ing gra­di­ents, switch­backs and a lot of ver­ti­cal gain. For fun both Mike and I switched to max­i­mum power and let the bikes go into the red. It’s an amus­ing, and some­what ad­dic­tive, sen­sa­tion hold­ing a min­i­mum of 16mph on an Alpine-style as­cent. And noth­ing feels stranger than hav­ing to coast or even brake through an up­hill hair­pin be­cause you’re mov­ing so quickly. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to put the ef­fort in and a climb like this is still go­ing to make you sweat. The im­por­tant thing is just how much it feels like ‘proper’ cy­cling even when you’ve got the power on full.

Re­move the fear

I can see the Par­alane2 be­ing a big help for rid­ers look­ing to build their cy­cling con­fi­dence for longer, big­ger rides. Rather than sit­ting at the bot­tom of a hors-cat­e­gory climb think­ing, ‘That’s not for me’, with the Par­alane2 you’ll be

more will­ing to have a go, and you’ll prob­a­bly suc­ceed. I’d go so far as to say that know­ing you’ve got that power as­sis­tance to back you up, you’ll be more in­clined to try and go fur­ther with­out it.

We reached the top of the as­cent and be­gan to head back down just as a Black For­est thun­der­storm hit. On the six-mile de­scent, the Par­alane2’s bal­ance felt dif­fer­ent to a standard bike as so much of its weight is in the down-tube. Ham­mer­ing down­hill on a bike with this sort of weight bal­ance felt odd to be­gin with, but you quickly get a feel for its so­lid­ity and sta­bil­ity. Be­fore long I was hit­ting corners and brak­ing as late as I would on my standard bike, and rid­ing with enough con­fi­dence to push to the lim­its I’m com­fort­able with.

Check­ing my Garmin when we reached the bot­tom, I saw we clocked a top speed of 52.7mph and a to­tal ride dis­tance of around 50 miles. It’s hard to judge the ab­so­lute range of the Par­alane2’s power unit as it re­ally de­pends on how much you’re us­ing the as­sis­tance, but af­ter our ride three of the 10 charge in­dic­tor lights were still il­lu­mi­nated so I’d guess you could eas­ily get a long day’s ride from a sin­gle charge. Even if the bat­tery does run out, the Par­alane2 still rides like a standard,

For fun both Mike and I switched to max­i­mum power and let the bikes go into the red

if slightly heavy, bike, so it’s not the end of the world. In my ad­mit­tedly short time with the Par­alane2, it won me over. I couldn’t see a place for it ini­tially, but now I can. Would I buy one? At the mo­ment, prob­a­bly not, but would I buy one for my 70-year-old cy­clist mum? Def­i­nitely (price per­mit­ting). And should the time come when I get older and I can no longer ride to the places I love to go now, I’d ab­so­lutely con­sider buy­ing one, with­out even a hint of em­bar­rass­ment about the ar­ti­fi­cial as­sis­tance it pro­vides. The Par­alane2 en­hances the ride ex­pe­ri­ence as it broad­ens your hori­zons of the ter­rain you can tackle. As we’ve got in so early, prices for the Par­alane2 mod­els have yet to be con­firmed. While I’m happy to give my ver­dict on the bike, I can’t give it a rat­ing with­out know­ing how much it costs. The fun I had out on it made for a fives­tar day of rid­ing.

It feels like ‘proper’ cy­cling even when you’ ve got the poweron­full

Warren gets an in­sight in to the lat­est Fo­cus model

Mike’s pas­sion for in­no­va­tion is seen through­out the Par­alane2

The staff care about the bikes they de­sign and the tech­nol­ogy in­volved A scep­ti­cal Warren was happy to be proved wrong about power as­sis­tance

You can re­move the bat­tery and mo­tor from the down-tube so you’re left with a 10kg road bike

MIKE ‘THE BIKE’ KLUGE

The Fo­cus is a lot of fun, whether rid­ing power as­sisted or not Xxxx xxxx xxxx Xxxx xxxx

The Fazua power unit can be re­moved if you want to ride unas­sisted

Var­i­ous spec grades will be on of­fer, we tested the Shi­mano Ul­te­gra Di2 model

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